Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation

Educational Excursions

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Three weeklong field excursions interspersed throughout the semester introduce students to the varied and unique ecosystems of Ecuador. Students experience multi-day trips to farms, highland forests, and grassland sites near Quito, as well as Andean cloud forest, Amazonian rainforest, and Galápagos Island ecosystems, so that they can understand and identify life forms and their adaptations in a comparative context. Besides familiarizing themselves with ecological processes in each ecosystem, students conduct taxon-specific investigations. Finally, students observe the human impacts on each ecosystem and study different strategies for conservation.

Spider monkeys

Cloud Forest
Yunguilla Community (Upper Cloud Forest)
After orientation week, students visit a rural community in order to interact with local community members and learn about Ecuador’s rural life; this includes participating in activities such as organic farming, harvesting, processing local products, and cattle ranching. The visit to Yunguilla Community includes living with an Ecuadorian campesino family during three days and nights. 

Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve (Lower Cloud Forest)
After their rural homestay in Yunguilla, students work during a five-day excursion in a cloud Forest reserve in one of the world's top-ten biodiversity hotspots, the diverse and highly threatened Chocó region of northwestern Ecuador. The visit is devoted to studying the cloud forest ecosystem, principally through ecology field methods and guided hikes in the forest. Students receive an introduction to botanical identification, practice setting up quadrants and transects to survey vegetation based on DBH, gain hands-on experience mist-netting birds under the guidance of an experienced ornithologist, and learn other field techniques. Students also gain insight into local environmental movements and grassroots conservation.

Ecuadorian Amazon

Limoncocha Lake and Petroleum Areas
During this excursion, the first three days in the region are devoted to the study of the major human impacts on the natural resource base, including petroleum exploitation and African palm oil plantations. Students visit Limoncocha, one of the most spectacular Amazon lakes and Amazonian wetland systems, where rare fauna — such as the black caiman, the largest crocodilian in the Amazon basin — live.

Tiputini Biological Station (TBS)
In the second excursion in the Amazon, students study at the Tiputini Biological Station (TBS) in the famous Yasuní National Park, one of the most biodiverse sites on Earth. At TBS, in the remote Ecuadorian Amazon, the teaching is focused on rain forest ecology in which students learn about ecological characteristics of Amazonia and expand their repertoire of ecological field methods. Specifically, they hone botanical and bird identification techniques, monitor primate density, practice measuring forest density and tree height, and receive field applications of pollination biology and soil testing. Students also receive lectures from guest faculty and other researchers working at the station and go on hikes with local indigenous guides. This site provides a unique opportunity to reach deeply into the Amazon beyond the encroachments of tourism and petroleum development.

Parámo Highlands
The program includes a three-day visit to the Andean páramo highlands at Antisana Reserve. The páramo is a tundra-like ecosystem unique to the neotropics. Students visit the páramo to learn about its rare ecology and conservation strategies for coping with human impacts and climate change and protecting endangered species such as the spectacular Andean condor, the largest flying bird on Earth.

Galápagos Islands
Students have the opportunity to see Darwin's wonderland during their weeklong excursion to the Galápagos Islands. Half of the week is spent aboard a boat where a Spanish-speaking naturalist instructs students on the identification and natural history of unique and often endemic plants, birds, reptiles, and mammal species. Students observe island geological formations and learn about evolutionary processes. Much of the time on the boat is devoted to studying the marine habitat through snorkeling, instruction, and firsthand observation. The other half of the week is spent with homestays on the island of Isabela in Puerto Villamil, which provides a unique understanding of the local residents and their relationship with the Galápagos National Park and its ecosystems.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Quito

Language Study: Spanish

Prerequisites: Coursework in environmental studies, ecology, biology, or related fields; 4 semesters college-level Spanish. Read more...


View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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